Ten Incredible Spoken Word Mindfucks
Steven J. Bernstein
Photo by Arthur S. Aubry
Yawn! Spoken word...
Nothin' but pretentious hipster men farting on about how they wish they could give birth just to experience the pain women go through. They tuck their cocks between their legs, finger the curls of their man-bush and begin to weep uncontrollably in a vain attempt to grow a clit. Not to mention the pale feral women incessantly waffling on and on about their periods while massacring a helpless and unsuspecting set of bongos in a misguided demonstration of current day feminism and ear-bleeding anti-rhythm.
And to prove it, below, for you dear reader, are ten thwacks of spoken word genius from the days of yore, before internet, before social media and Youtube, when only those with wordsmith talent and extraordinary imagination were given exclusive access to public airwaves and semi-adequate analog recording equipment. And thus, once, long ago, the world was spared from the majority of frogshite that smothers the spoken word world, and all that was made to suffer were the poor fools who would pour into open-mic night to watch Monday night lesbians and that particular sticky-carpeted venue's unemployed deluded crustacean of the week.
So, um... yes. Enjoy.
Gibby Haynes 'John E. Smoke' (1988)
Recorded in one glorious take and overdubbed with a wild and screaming fangirl throng hurling adorations and dripping virgin lust fitting for a live Cheap Trick record, 'John E. Smoke' is Butthole Surfers' frontman Gibby Haynes' finest moment. At his acid-fried and improvisational best, Gibby yawdles his slack-jawed Texan ramble at the listener, inspiring an entire generation of disillusioned teens to wax their cerebral cortex's in mind altering substances. Disproportionate luxury liners, crippled midget lesbian boys and an orgiastic clusterfuck of nuns all play a part in this most disturbing yet humorous of lucid dreams, and in some twisted, messed up torture of logic, has you somewhat relating to the chaos that dominates the main character's psyche. One question; what the hell is a "slinky in a halo storm"?
John Cooper Clarke 'Twat' (1982)
It's that oh so English of words innit... twat. Say it out loud. TWAT! Yeah. Makes you feel better doesn't it? Come on Cockney, say it... "you're a bleeding twat ain't ya?!" Oh yeah. Punk poet extraordinaire and coolest looking cat on the planet John Cooper Clarke introduced twat to a whole new generation of young 'uns with this spiteful yet wholly humorous slab of street prose that was fortunately captured live on early 1980's Australian television thanks to the late night adult music and entertainment show Sounds After Dark. As I heard the magical word spewing from my parent's television set, I hid behind an indoor plant and, edging it ever closer to the TV a la Bugs Bunny style, I spied my first peek at the rock 'n' roll wordsmith. None the wiser, the folks continued to view their exclusively adult programming, but when I stupidly ran around the breakfast table the next morning yelling "twat!" repeatedly, well, I guess the jig was up. The power of words.
Saul Williams 'Coded Language' (2002)
Saul Williams is one intense and electrifying dude. His 2002 debut appearance on Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam flung him into the hotbed of civil rights relevancy as the machined and inspired spokesman of a freshly and necessarily revitalised movement. As poignant as Gil Scott-Heron, as professorial as Malcolm X and as rhythmic and charismatic as the Last Poets, Mr. Williams promptly introduced to the world his own unique and theatrical twist to a delivery that is now often imitated, but never duplicated. Dramatically unrolling a metres long scroll and reading directly from it, Williams proceeded to spit forth one of the most righteous, angered and downright accurate pieces of political prose ever to be recorded. 'Coded Language' is a 4-minute rap without the cliched breakbeats and has rightly gone down as the anthemic 'Welcome to the Terrordome' of the spoken word universe.
William Shatner 'The Transformed Man' (1968)
I'm not a 'Trekkie', in fact, if you ever see me at a Comic-Con, please kill me. But William Shatner is a damn world heritage treasure. God bless that monotonic, puffy-cheeked man. The Shat's 1968 debut LP 'The Transformed Man' will to me at least, go down as one of the most remarkable, deep thinking yet completely absurd albums of all time and must be considered for any of those pain in the ass, Buzzfeedy lists that bloggers insist on continuing to churn out. Like this one! The title track begins with a well-mannered monologue; a man recently transformed, realising that his upbringing, his life in general up until this point has been most unsatisfactory and a headstrong change is required if it were ever to be improved. Shatner, as always, plays the role with aplomb. Complete with an underscore of epic orchestral 1960's movie soundtracks, 'The Transformed Man' continues to build to what promises to be a scintillating climax... and it is! Spoiler alert: He gropes God.
Jello Biafra 'Shut Up, Be Happy' (1987)
Never before has this Jello Biafra mantra been so relevant as it is in that spoilt little man- child Trump's today. Originally released on the Dead Kennedys frontman's debut spoken word LP, 1987's 'No More Cocoons', 'Shut Up, Be Happy' was soon turned into a dystopian doom and gloom nightmare by guy-who-pretends-to-be-street-but-is-more-Beverly-Hills-than-a-pampered-poodle-in-a-handbag Ice-T. The tennis mum's refreshment drink of choice did a bloody good job too, choosing the perfect backing track to Jello's Stalin-esque megaphoning, Black Sabbath's 'Black Sabbath'. The combination is both awe-inspiring and gut-sinkingly ominous, proving once again that some rappers will claim fucking anything without actually lifting a damn finger. Good job Tutuola.
William S. Burroughs 'The Lobotomy Kid' (1980)
If I was a sixteen-year-old Moroccan house boy, I would be all over William Burroughs like a... erm... sixteen-year-old Moroccan house boy. The doyen of dystopia, the prince of paranoia, the custodian of cockroaches is just so super cool and such a literary revolutionist that I fail to see who I could possibly gush over if he were to never exist. Probably some other wrinkled old homosexual I guess. Anyway, the man who puts the hero in heroin really lets loose here on 'The Lobotomy Kid', flying out of the blocks with such freak show proclamations as "The human nervous system can be reduced to a compact and abbreviated spinal column" and "The brain, front, middle and rear, must follow the adenoid, the wisdom tooth, the appendix". Of course, Burroughs is merely playing a character, satire y'see, as he poses as the God-like head speaker at the International Conference of Technological Psychiatry revealing his masterwork to his peers, "the complete, all-American de-anxietised man". Not following? Don't worry. You will. Mwhahahaha!
Gil Scott-Heron 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised' (1971)
'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised' is the most spot-on piece of political satire not only to grace its heyday of the early 1970's, but also today's world of disinformation and outright lying to the detriment of us, the masses. It is a damn indictment on the human race that almost fifty years after the recording of this proto-rap masterpiece that things really haven't improved at all for any of us, but especially those of us who are not male, white and straight. Despite the ominous message being laid out to the most funky-see-funky-do backing track ever put down on wax -an aural formula that provides the sugar to the medicine of Gil's stark reality- not too many souls seem to have taken heed. And it's in the funk where the problem lays; Revolution is treated more like a night club pumper or a sample plantation to be deforested rather than the serious and concise political statement that it is. Nevertheless, the message is pure and perhaps one that seeded the inspiration to Jello Biafra's 'Shut Up, Be Happy'. Surely though, as an evolved species, we can take a multitasking heed of the message while gettin' jiggy with it. No?
Patti Smith 'Babelogue' (1978)
Yowzer! It pretty much goes without saying these days that Patti Smith is one superstar of a woman who really should be the inspiration to female-kind rather than let's saaaay... one of the Kardashians. Part punk-Goddess, part literary wizard and kick ass rock star, Auntie Patti has had a stellar career and has put out an outstanding body of work over the past five decades. None however, are more outstanding than 'Babelogue'. This short spitfire of a speech poem packs a killer punch with a condensed set of words so concentrated, so machine-gunned, that Smith barely has room to breathe. Music is completely unnecessary in this piece, as Patti displays one of the purest, most rhythmic dance beats merely with her words, proving once and for all that the human body is the most incredible instrument of all.
Allen Ginsberg 'Howl' (1959)
Coming in at just over twenty-one minutes, this most infamous of poems -first read live to an unsuspecting San Franciscan audience in 1957- has gone down as one of the most influential pieces of literary genius to ever mock a struggling writer's brain. 'Howl's' commentary on rapid progression, city life, the human condition and the obscenities of existence shocked boom-town America so much to the point of crass censorship where the McCarthy enabler himself, president Dwight Eisenhower, attempted to have the whole thing banned. This did not bode well for 'Howl' creator Allen Ginsberg, as this was an unexaggerated scary period for free-thinkers in America, as even Link Wray's swampy guitar instrumental 'Rumble' made the no-play list. However, in the same year, the court system ruled that 'Howl' is indeed not obscene, must not be banned and also has "redeeming social importance". And it does, again, to this very day the relevance is uncanny and puts Ginsberg in the same category as George Orwell as a clairvoyant of governmental perversion and human rights disaster.
Steven Jesse Bernstein 'Come Out Tonight' (1988)
Jackie O, oil slavery, oranges, taking it in the ear, social importance and moistly moulded photographs of Marilyn Monroe all make an appearance in 'Come Out Tonight', quite possibly the most intense, nerve-wracking and disturbingly hilarious two minutes and forty-one seconds that any human could endure. Steven Bernstein was one complicated cat, his self-loathing and anger bordering on violent personality ultimately cost him jail time and eventually his life. But chin up! Those defective traits make for one damn fine spoken word performer, so much so that Bernstein was invited by Sub-Pop's Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman to record this gem for the 1988 celebration compilation Sub-Pop 200. Having supported a swag of early Seattle grunge bands such as Nirvana, Mudhoney, Melvins and Soundgarden, Bernstein was regarded as a bit of an anti-hero among the fledgeling scene and as many have pointed out over the years, an icon that truly represented what the grunge movement was all about. I'm actually not so sure about that myself. Have you ever seen Bernstein nearly completely destroy rock 'n' roll by bare-chesting a rock-god-whinge- tone into a deliberately fuzzed out microphone while wearing the worst charity bin clothes imaginable? You have? Ah, what the hell would I know?